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Proxemic language: this is how the use of distances is used to communicate

Proxemic language: this is how the use of distances is used to communicate

November 25, 2022

The proxemic language is, perhaps, one of the communication modalities that go unnoticed.

Speech and writing receive almost all our attention, making us assume that most of the information we must express and interpret is contained there; and non-verbal language is very undervalued. However, within this last category we tend to consider only gestural language and prosody. We do not realize that there is a lot of world beyond these elements.

In this article we will see what is the proxemic language and in what way it influences both our relationships and the meanings we express.

  • Related article: "The 12 types of language (and their characteristics)"

Proxemic language: a definition

Let's start with the most basic. We understand proxemic language a type of non-verbal communication based on distances that are maintained between two bodies, as well as with the location of people in certain spaces.

Although it is a way of conveying meanings implicitly and appealing to our most emotional side , that does not make proxemic language an invaluable tool when it comes to communicating. In fact, the meaning of an entire phrase, no matter how long it may be, can be totally altered depending on how we use it.

In addition, the proxemic language takes into account the movements that are made by the translation of the whole body when going from one point to another. That is to say, it does not study distances as if they were a simple variable that we find in "frozen images", but it is fixed in the before and after. It is not the same approach of a person traveling for it 20 meters that coincide in an elevator.

  • Related article: "Emotional psychology: main theories of emotion"

The usefulness of this form of communication

Fundamentally, the proxemic language serves to express ideas that belong to two different axes of meaning: the degree of intimacy and the degree of hostility.


Intimacy is greater the smaller the distance between two people. In addition, from the hand of intimacy goes the idea that you want to connect emotionally with the other, that you empathize. That is why some negotiation techniques use the resource to approach the other person little by little so that he accepts the idea that the other seeks the good of both through the treatment he proposes.

  • Maybe you're interested: "How to be a great negotiator, in 10 psychological keys"


Unlike intimacy, there is no direct relationship between the distance between people and the degree to which this attitude is present. In fact, hostility is communicated through Unusually small or unusually wide distances . In the first case it is meant to express the will to dominate the other, while in the second case it shows distrust and defensive attitude.

Spaces and contexts in which it applies

The functioning of proxemic language varies greatly depending on the type of space in which the person is. And is that no relationship is simply in a vacuum, there is always a context that conditions us. Proxemics, after all, is something social: it works from what one knows the other knows, and the different environments generate expectations both in the sender and the receiver.

Now, what are the different types of spaces on which the proxemic language depends? The main ones are the following.

1. Public space

As its name suggests, this context is one in which any person can participate in what happens. In the proxemic language, it is a space in which there is a speaker and a multitude of people who attend to what they are doing or saying.

The distance between the transmitter and the receivers is usually large, of several meters if possible, given that there are many people participating in the exchange of information and it is necessary to make clear that the message is addressed to everyone.

2. Social space

These types of contexts belong to the professional sphere, the formal and the meetings with commercial purposes . The typical distance between the people involved is usually from one to three meters.

3. Personal space

Personal space is defined by its informal nature, in which it becomes evident that there is at least a significant emotional or affective connection. It occurs between friends, family or colleagues who know each other well. The situations that it propitiates are characterized by the fact that the distance between people are less than one meter .

4. Intimate space

Those who use this type of space as a form of proxemic language (in addition to other utilities) are people whose relationship is intimate, such as couples, close relatives or old friends.

Here, the typical distance can range from a few tens of centimeters to direct physical contact .

Cultural variations

The distances maintained between people according to the type of space in which they are located can vary greatly depending on the type of culture to which they belong.

For example, the countries of northern Europe and Southeast Asia are characterized by using proxemia biased towards relatively large interpersonal distances.

However, the countries that border the Mediterranean, those that belong to Ibero-America and many of those belonging to the Middle East and Africa, are characterized by normalizing much smaller interpersonal spaces, as well as by resorting much to physical contact even among relative strangers.

Proxemics: the study of personal space (November 2022).

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